Shannon Watkins of the Martin Center focuses on the reopening of research universities.

Although colleges across the country plan to reopen for the fall semester, much is still unknown about how to best proceed. Leaders are grappling with how to best safeguard public health while attempting to re-establish some sense of normalcy on campus.

Despite the uncertainties that lie ahead, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Buck Goldstein, argues that research universities like UNC-Chapel Hill have a responsibility to “lead the way when it comes to basic operations in the new reality…The choices they make and the mistakes they inevitably suffer will help guide governments and businesses of all kinds in restarting our economy safely, effectively, and ethically,” Goldstein said.

Goldstein is the university entrepreneur in residence and a professor of the practice in the department of economics at UNC-Chapel Hill. He writes a regular newsletter called Our Higher Calling and co-authored the book, Our Higher Calling: Rebuilding the Partnership between America and Its Colleges and Universities.

The Martin Center spoke with Goldstein to discuss how and why universities should reopen as the country battles COVID-19.

In one of your recent newsletters, you note how colleges are on a firm deadline to figure out whether—and how—to reopen this fall. You say that research universities are in a unique position—and have a special responsibility—to lead the way for other institutions on how to go forward in the wake of the pandemic. Why is that?

We have a unique community, I would say it’s a somewhat closed community, and we have the ability to punch a bunch of different buttons in an attempt to learn more about how people can live in a community within the context of the virus. Here at Chapel Hill, we also have an extraordinary group of scientists, epidemiologists, and specialists in all of the issues connected with the virus—and so I think we all believe that we ought to try.